Airplane!

  • Title:  Airplane!
  • Directors:  Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
  • Date:  1980
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Cast:  Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Peter Graves, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, Region 1

Airplane is a 70’s movie, despite being made in 1980.  Like many of the comedies of the 1970s – some of  the jokes are inappropriate, especially now, thirty years on.  However, also like many 70s comedies — the film is so over-the-top and so broad in it’s humor that it is just funny and humor that could easily be offensive, just somehow isn’t, for the most part.  Part of  it is certainly that the movie parodies everything in sight from commercials to disco films and the equal-opportunity kidding becomes just that – kidding, not mean-spirited.  Here and there a few lines or sight gags make one wince – but some of them did when the film came out in 1980.

Airplane is a brilliant parody of 1970s airplane disaster films — such as Airport and it’s sequels.  And, although I have never seen Airport – I saw Airplane when it came out in 1980.  The film also parodies other films of the 70s – from the opening sequence – a parody of Jaws, including the music – to Saturday Night Fever, also including the music.  But the film also parodies social trends such as Tupperware parties, and commercials – such as a woman wondering why her husband asks the stewardess for a second cup of  coffee, when he never asks for a second cup of her coffee.  The film is also filled with sight gags, and clever wordplay, from the “Who’s on First”-inspired radio conversation between Capt. Oveur, his co-pilot Roger, and his navigator Victor to Leslie Nielson  reminding everyone to not call him Shirley.  (As in, “Surely, you can’t be serious!” / “I’m deadly serious, and don’t call me Shirley.”)

But the film is filled with great performances – Robert Hays, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges,and the aforementioned Leslie Nielsen are all brilliant.  This, actually, was the film that started Nielsen on a new career – previously he had played the earnest, intense, heroic protagonist that he is sending up in this film at his dead-pan best.

Also, like many 70s movies, Airplane! features great music as part of the actual plot of the film, including the Theme from Jaws, Stayin’ Alive, Respect, River Jordan (by Peter Yarrow), and the Norte Dame Victory March (yes, you read that right – a football fight song).

However, the, at times, inappropriate humor, smoking, and drug and alcohol use make this not a film for kids, despite the PG rating (note:  It was made before PG-13 was introduced into the ratings system).

Recommendation:  See it if  you enjoy broad comedy and can make allowances for the 1970s-style humor.
Rating:  3 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Alien Nation

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The Adventures of Robin Hood

  • Title:  The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • Directors:  Michael Curtiz & William Keighley
  • Date:  1938
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Stars:  Errol Flynn, Olivia deHavilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Alan Hale
  • Genre:  Adventure, Classic
  • Format:  Technicolor, Standard (4 x 3)
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, Region 1
  • DVD Notes:  2-disc Special Edition

 Another of my favorite films.  The Technicolor process results in very bright jewel tones, that add to the storybook quality of this movie – as does shooting much of the movie on location.  For once the “this is obviously Southern California” look is a positive thing because the bright sun (even in day-for-night shots) adds to the storybook feel.

Errol Flynn  is excellent as Robin, smiling and laughing his way through the film, though he delivers his speech rousing the men of  Sherwood and Loxley well.  But this is definitely a lighter edged Robin Hood – which is fine, it’s part of what makes it work in, again, a very storybook fashion.  Also, Flynn is brilliant in the sword-fighting scenes — and his derring-do works well for the character of Robin Hood.

Olivia de Havilland is quite feisty as Lady Marian, in this version of the story a Royal ward of King Richard (the Lionheart) who’s been living under the thumb of Prince John (Raines) – though she really has no clue what he’s doing to the country.  Once Robin makes things clear to her – she jumps sides and also falls in love with Robin.  But it’s nice to see in a movie from 1938 such a feisty, intelligent, independent Lady Marian.  I also liked that her maid falls for one of Robin’s men.

The plot covers many of the familiar legends of Robin Hood in almost episodic style — meeting Little John and Friar Tuck, challenging Prince John — by stalking into a party carrying a Royal deer and plopping it in the middle of the table, the archery contest (that results in Robin being captured by Bad Prince John), and finally King Richard showing up and he and Robin over-throwing John and the Sheriff of Nottingham and the king not merely knighting Robin but declaring him an Baron and an Earl and marrying him to Marian.

It’s a fun movie with lots of sword-fighting and adventure.  And Flynn is brilliant at sword fighting as I said — the finale with the fight between Robin and Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Rathbone) is brilliant, including both a fight on a curved stair and a shadow play fight.  Marian is also quite feisty and well-played by deHavilland.

I have the 2-disc special edition, which includes a plethora of special features including:

  • Welcome to Sherwood:  The Story of  The Adventures of  Robin Hood
  • Deleted scenes, and bloopers
  • Robin Hood through the Ages
  • A Journey to Sherwood Forest (home movies)
  • Classic Cartoons:  “Rabbit Hood” and “Robin Hood Daffy” (NOT to be missed – they are brilliant!)
  • Vintage shorts (one on archery and another interviewing Flynn)
  • Splitting the Arrow — Art, Costume Design, Drawings, photos, publicity materials
  • Audio-Only Extras:  Robin Hood Radio Show, Korngold Piano Session
  • Glorious Technicolor – Angela Lansbury narrates a documentary explaining the tri-color (and base b/w) film process that results in Technicolor (Another do NOT miss extra)
  • Feature-length Commentary with Rudy Behlmer, Warner’s Film Historian
  • Warner Night at the Movies hosted by Leonard Martin (Trailer, newsreel, short, & cartoon)
  • Errol Flynn Trailer Gallery

Recommendation:  See it!  Add the Special Edition DVD your collection!  Show this movie to your kids or neices & nephews.
Rating:  5 of 5 stars
Next Film:  Airplane!

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

  • Title:  The Adventures of  Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension
  • Director:  W.D. Richter
  • Date:  1984
  • Studio:  MGM / Sherwood Productions
  • Cast:  Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Goldblum, Rosalind Cash, Robert Ito, Clancy Brown, Vincent Schiavelli, Carl Lumbly
  • Genre:  SF, Adventure, Comedy
  • Format:  Color
  • DVD Formats:  Anamorphic Widescreen, R1, NTSC

“Remember, no matter where you go – there you are.”  — Buckaroo Banzai

“History is made at night, Character is what you are in the dark.”  — Lord John Worphin

This is a movie where I actually owned a copy on VHS tape.  However, it is amazing just how good the DVD looks, especially the anamorphic widescreen.  It is, without a doubt, one of my absolutely favorite movies.  I have seen in many times, and have several of the best lines memorized.

Buckaroo Banzai comes at you all at once and never slows down, producing a wild ride, filled with great lines and snappy dialogue.  However, it also quickly establishes it’s characters, so we come to care about them as people, as the film zips along at warp speed and then some.  If you have never seen this movie before – I highly, highly recommend watching it at least twice in order to figure out what is going on.

The crawl at the beginning of the film attempts to explain part of what’s going on and introduces some of  the humor of the movie, mentioning that Buckaroo, with an American father and Japanese mother — was “brought into life the way he was destined to live it – going several directions at once.”  It also mentions those “hard rocking scientists – the Hong Kong Cavaliers”, Buckaroo’s friends who have just sort of drifted into his circle.  And in the movie – he picks up a couple of new followers.

The opening of the film attempts to introduce the many sides of Buckaroo — brilliant neuro-surgeon (Jeff Goldblum gets some great lines in that scene so watch closely), experimental scientist and physicist, head of a rock band, and founder of the Banzai Institute.  He’s also an incredibly sensitive man, able to pick out a girl crying in a crowded audience while on stage playing jazzy rock music.

However, the majority of the plot involves the 1938 Radio Broadcast of “War of the Worlds” by Orson Welles – the one that panicked the country, when people believed it was real.  This movie posits – What if  it was real?  But the aliens weren’t from Mars, but rather trapped in a prison called the 8th Dimension, an inter-spatial place between the tiny particles of matter.  That is, matter is mostly empty space, so Banzai is attempting to prove it is possible to cross inside it.  An earlier experiment into the 8th Dimension had released several aliens from this prison.  When Banzai’s experiment opens the Dimension again, more aliens from the Planet 10 arrive to cause World War III – if Whorfin (formerly imprisoned in the 8th Dimension) isn’t stopped.

But that really simplifies this brilliant movie.  There are many extremely likable aspects to the film — a brilliant cast; the idea that the film treats it’s audience as intelligent and just drops one into the middle of events, trusting the audience can figure it out without spoon-feeding information; some truly brilliant, funny lines; a rip-roaring, fast-moving fun plot; great characters.  In many ways, it has everything.

By the bye – the sound design in this film is also notable.  Pay attention to the background announcements in the scene when Whorfin escapes from a mental hospital (Whorfin is inhabiting the body of Dr. Emilio Lazardo) or in the scenes at YoYoDyne Propulsion Systems.

Recommendation:  Run don’t walk to the nearest rental store or Netflix and get a copy of the film.
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Adventures of  Robin Hood

9 to 5

  • Title:  9 to 5
  • Director:  Colin Higgins
  • Date:  1980
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Cast:  Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, Dabney Coleman
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Region 1, NTSC

Another bought it for a bargain price DVD, and I wasn’t sure how well it would stand up. However, this movie is still quite, quite funny. The comedy really comes from the characters, and expresses how three different women attempt to deal with the world’s worst boss — eventually getting even, as well as improving the lives of everyone in their office.

The characters are:  Violet, the hard-working secretary played to perfection by Lily Tomlin. She’s a widow with four kids and has been at Consolidated the longest, 12 years, and has applied for promotion.

Doralee, played by Dolly Parton, the boss Frank Hart’s (Dabney Coleman) vivacious secretary, who despite her good looks and skin-tight sweaters and dresses is loyal to her husband.

And Judy, played by Jane Fonda, who’s newly divorced and never worked a day in her life.

The film begins by following Judy as she starts at Consolidated — meeting Violet, Doralee, a few of the other secretaries, the boss, Mr. Hart, and Roz — the boss’s tell-it-all spy. Judy has a few difficulties, notably with a really large Xerox machine, but gradually starts to fit in.

Then the fun starts. Violet goes to Hart to check on her promotion and finds out he didn’t recommend her because “he needs a man in that position” and the man he promoted had less senority “but he has a family to support”. Remember – Violet has four kids — she’s understandably ticked-off. During the fight, he calls in Doralee, and Violet lets it slip that everyone knows he’s sleeping with her. This, however, is news to Doralee, who’s been faithful to her husband. She has put up with the pinches, being slapped on the rear, and being chased around the desk because she “needs this job” but she threatens Hart that if he ever spreads lies like that about her again, she’ll “change him from a rooster to a hen with one shot” (one of the great lines of the film) with the gun she keeps in her purse.

Meanwhile, Judy is standing next to one of the other secretaries, who is packing up her desk with a guard at her shoulder — she’s been fired for talking about her salary. She tells Judy that she had wanted to spend more time with her kids anyway, but she’s clearly upset. Judy is angered by all this and becomes determined to “fight the good fight” and do something because the way the other secretary was treated isn’t right.

Violet, Doralee, and Judy end up at a nearby bar, get drunk, then go to one of the girls’ houses where they proceed to smoke a joint Violet took from her son, get very silly, and amongst a spread of a lot of food – fantasize about how they’d do-in their boss, Mr. Hart. Judy fantasies about being a big-game hunter, with Hart as the game. Violet fantasies about something straight out of fairy tale, with animated animals, herself as Snow White, and her poisoning Hart, followed by the liberation of all the secretaries who are chained to their typewriters (which is a great scene). Doralee fantasizes about treating Frank exactly as he treated her — in a completely sexist, harassing way, even commenting on his “buns” and “package”, before hog tying him like in a rodeo and tying him to a spit.

The next day, Violet ends up having to run errands, including shopping, during her lunch hour… she comes back and is complaining to another secretary in the coffee room.  Not completely paying attention to what she’s doing, Violet stirs the rat poison she’s bought for home, into Hart’s coffee instead of “skinny and sweet” his preferred artificial sweetener.  (All the way through the film — he’d been insisting she get him coffee, which she does, grudgingly).  Then Hart, in his office, arguing and bullying someone on the phone the way he bullies “his girls” in the office, not paying attention to what he’s doing, goes for the coffee, leans back in his chair, and the chair collapses, causing him to knock himself out.  (The trouble with the chair has also occurred several times earlier in the film).  Doralee goes to the hospital with the unconscious Hart.

Meanwhile, Violet realizes what she’d done, accidentally, she and Judy go to the hospital.  Hart’s fine, and although the doctor wants to take X-rays to check him out, he refuses, referring to doctors as con artists who just take his money. (Yeah, this guy’s a jerk all right).  As he takes off, a cardiac arrest comes in — and a bit of a farce develops, as Judy, Doralee, and Violet overhear the doctor telling the cops the guy is dead and was poisoned, and Violet steals the body — only to discover later it was the wrong one and they then have to return it to the hospital.

The next day, Hart’s back in the office with a little bump on the head.  Judy, Violet, and Doralee gossip about their misadventure the night before, and are over-heard by Roz — who tells Hart everything she over-hears (she was the one who got the one woman canned for discussing salary).  Hart gets Doralee in his office and threats to report her and Violet to the police unless Doralee provides him with sexual favors.  Doralee explodes, pulls one phone cord from the phone, pulls the other phone from the wall, ties up Hart, and has Judy come in to watch him, while she searches for Violet.  By the time Violet and Doralee get back, Judy has taken Doralee’s gun and fired at Hart a couple of times (missing by a mile) to keep him from escaping after she’s been sweet-talked into untying him.  Violet, tho’ a bit panicked, decides they will have to hold onto Hart — they take him to his empty house (his wife is on a cruise, by herself), and try to figure out what to do.

The second half of the movie — the three hold onto Hart, taking turns watching him.  Doralee runs interference at the office and between her and Violet they handle anything that comes up.  Roz is sent off  to a foreign language school to get her out of their hair.  (The three are waiting for some invoices to prove Hart stole and sold equipment).  Gradually as the six weeks they need to get proof of Hart’s misconduct pass, they make changes — allowing personal items on desks, painting the office brighter colors with brighter fabrics everywhere, opening a day care center, allowing flex hours, allowing job-sharing, and even helping employees through an alcoholic rehab program.  But, unknown to them — Hart has gotten free when his wife returns home early — and he’s replaced the missing merchandise.  He’s about to exact his revenge — when the chairman of the board, whom no one ever sees, shows up.  Looking like Col. Sanders, the guy is impressed that Hart has increased efficiency by 20 percent in six weeks.  However, he tells Hart, “That equal pay thing has got to go — let’s not get too crazy.”  Hart’s promoted out of the women’s hair, and Violet, Judy and Doralee celebrate “the beginning” with champagne.   The end credits include an explanation of what happens to each of the four main characters.

What’s interesting about 9 to 5 thirty years later is what has and has not changed in the world of working women who are secretaries, admin assistants, and office workers.  Whereas a boss who was so blatantly sexist, harassing, and obnoxious would probably swiftly be fired for his behavior from most offices — minor amounts of harassment are still common.  And although it’s hard to imagine an office that doesn’t allow coffee cups and personal items on desks — Where are the daycare centers?  The number of businesses providing daycare for employees has actually decreased since 1980 rather than increased.  Concepts such as flexible hours (to some extent) are fairly common but job sharing in the Corporate World is still a virtually unknown concept — if one has to work part-time for whatever reason (going to school, taking care of kids and family, taking care of an elderly parent, etc) — the only jobs available are low-paying, low-status jobs where one gets little to no respect.

Watching the movie of  9 to 5 — I wasn’t sure how well it would stand up.  However, because it’s essentially a character comedy it still works.  It’s still funny and fun.  The farce elements and physical comedy also still work.  Overall, the fashions (or lack of  fashion) don’t really matter — and actually the different look of each of  the three main characters adds to their character — Judy’s look is soft, fluffy, and out-of-date for even the 80s – because she’s never worked and is wearing what she thinks an office worker should wear.  Doralee wears tight dresses not to consciously advertise her figure but probably because she finds them comfortable, pretty, and professional enough for the office.  Violet actually dresses the most professionally, often with a blazer and skirt — but occasionally wears something a little nicer, such as the Japanese print wrap jacket — something a little more noticeable that was probably a gift.  The IBM Selectric typewriters actually had me nostalgic — I learned to type (not keyboard but type) on one of those in junior high.  The dictaphone is something I’ve never personally used, and I have no idea how to take shorthand, but those are office/secretary skills that might actually still be in use — especially for medical and legal secretaries.  Overall, the film was fun to watch again.  One of the best points about 9 to 5 is it is not strident, it’s funny, thus making it much, much easier to watch than, say, if Michael Moore had produced a documentary about how working women are mis-treated in the work place.  Again, an enjoyable and fun film.

This film also has a awesome theme song — one I love to blast on my Ipod (which is hooked into a device which broadcasts the music through my car radio) when driving home from my 8 to 5 office job!

  • Recommendation:  See It and Rent It.
  • Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
  • Next Film:  The Adventures of  Buckaroo Banzai (Across the 8th Dimension)

42nd Street

  • Title: 42nd Street
  • Director: Lloyd Bacon
  • Choreographer: Busby Berkeley
  • Date: 1933
  • Studio: Warner Brothers / Vitaphone
  • Actors: Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Ginger Rogers, Warner Baxter
  • Genre: Musical
  • Format: Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format: Region 1, NTSC

You’re going out there a youngster – but you’re coming back a star.

The plot of 42nd Street, such as it is, is rather thin. A producer (Warner Baxter), somewhat recovered from a “nervous breakdown” has decided to bring his new show to Broadway – a comeback of sorts, he’s depending on the success of the show to restore his reputation after his breakdown, and to restore his bank account after the stock market crash (this is a Depression-era film). Meanwhile, because no one involved in the artistic side of the show has any money, they are depending on a used-car salesman from Cleveland to bankroll the show to the tune of $70, 000 (which sounds impressive now – must have been a fortune back in 1933). To keep the investor happy, they’ve set the star of the show, Dorothy, on the investor – keeping him happy and occupied. She, however, is secretly meeting up with an old boyfriend – a failed Vaudeville star that she’s been supporting. The first half of the film, predictably, follows the chorus as they get ready for the show – with occasional forays into what attempts to be plot. Other characters include — Ginger Rogers as the sassy, knows everything, world-weary Ann (or “Anytime Annie” as the backstage boys call her), and Peggy (Ruby Keeler) – the new kid in her first role in a chorus.

As the rehearsals wrap up, the production company moves to Philadelphia for the out-of-town test run opening. There, during a pre-opening party, Dorothy gets drunk, throws out the “Angel”/used car salesman, and basically pitches a fit. In desperation, she calls up the old boyfriend, who she had previously dumped, causing him to move to, guess where? Yep – Philadelphia. He shows up, but so does Peggy – who had also been seeing him. The resulting catfight results in an unconvincing fall for Dorothy, and the stereotypical broken ankle. And thus, it’s Peggy who will take the stage for opening night. She and the producer literally cram all day to get her ready, but she does, predictably, take the stage by storm and become a star. Dorothy, meanwhile, is free to have the one thing she now knows she always wanted – to be with her old boyfriend.

So — why bother, you might ask? Well, the last half-hour of the film, the “show-within-a-show” that Warner Brothers excelled at for years, is a Bugsy Berkeley masterpiece. Featuring three production numbers: “Shuffle off to Buffalo”, “You’re Getting to be a Habit With Me”, and “42nd Street” — it’s very fun to watch, and especially “42nd Street” shows a mastery of both black and white photography and Art Deco set design (and costume design). Back in the 30s — directors knew how to film in black and white, and sets and costumes were designed for it. Berkeley excelled at using the contrast of glossy jet black and crisp white to add to the image. He also filmed from a variety of angles, not just the “audience” pov at the stage but from directly above looking down at the dancers as they form patterns and even from stage level looking at the line of chorus girl legs. 42nd Street features a rotating stage with dancers in concentric rings (moving in opposite directions), a bi-level train that opens up, and even a model of (old) New York with taxis, fruit carts, a murder (guess New York hasn’t changed that much!) and even a police officer on horseback. The street scene, in fact, in the “42nd Street” number is chaotic and impressive, even though it (probably intentionally) looks like it’s on a stage.

The last half hour definitely makes the film worth seeing once, tho’ I would admit — not the best of the 1930s black-and-white musicals I’ve seen. One major pity of this film is that Ginger Rogers is terribly under-used as Annie – a bit more than a cameo, but not by much. Though, I did have to smile at her criticism of marriage in the “Shuffle off to Buffalo” number. The film would have been much better if Rogers had played the part of Peggy and Keeler the part of Annie (even if both actresses had – had to change hair colors). I will say this, though, like most musicals, it’s still a fun escape. It’s only half in jest that one of my personal sayings is, “The best cure for depression is a box of really good gourmet chocolates and a black-and-white musical.)

Recommendation: See it only if interested in the history of the American musical.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Next Film: 9 to 5

2010 The Year We Make Contact

  • Title:  2010 The Year We Make Contact
  • Director:  Peter Hyams
  • Date:  1984
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  SF
  • Actors:  Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Keir Dullea, Dana Elcar
  • Film Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Dual-sided Standard/Widescreen
  • DVD Formats:  R1, NTSC

“My god, it’s full of  Stars!”
“What’s going to happen? / Something Wonderful.”

The common problem with older SF movies is often their anachronistic nature. It’s 2010 now  — I don’t see a mission to Mars, much less to Jupiter. It’s easier to ignore out-of-date fashions in a drama, than someone using a computer that looks like it came from Radio Shack 30 years ago. However, if the SF film is a space-fantasy like Star Wars or resembling a drama more than anything else, like 2010, sometimes little inconsistencies can be overlooked.

2010 The Year We Make Contact is a sequel to 2001 — but with a completely different look and feel.  It’s not weird, hard-to-follow, visually stunning but character poor like 2001. The plot is straight forward, in 1984, when I originally saw it, this film had drama and tension, and seemed incredibly realistic in a futuristic way.

Watching the film again in 2010 — things pop up that seem strange (like Schneider using a Word Processor with a lift-up 4-inch screen instead of a computer, laptop, or even an iPad.) And the cold war plot seems really, really strange and out of place. After all, the Soviet Union broke up, when, in the 90s? But Russia, will always be Russia — any country that managed to survive even a little bit under the Czars… But it was weird to see the Soviet flag on the Russian spaceship and on the Russian uniform. I mean, I don’t think I’ve even seen a picture of it in over 10 years.

However, about halfway through the film, the Cold War turns hot — messing up the join space mission considerably. And the answer to the survival of both crews turns out to be cooperation. Also, the end of  the film is fantastic and awe-inspiring! It makes the film worth watching, even with all the technical “problems” (more along the lines of “oh, come on — tech doesn’t work that way”). And HAL still seems chilling, and strangely advanced, compared to any other computer in the film, or what I’m typing on right now.

Scheider and Lithgow are both wonderful, as usual. Watch for them to team-up again (previously) in 1979’s All that Jazz. Scheider’s a magnetic actor — simply because he never seems to be acting. Lithgow can do just about anything — he melts into his characters extremely well. Helen Mirren, doing a passable Russian accent, manages to be less annoying than usual (she must have been pretty young here). Keir Dullea of 2001, makes a re-appearance. Dana Elcar plays a Russian diplomat of some sort, his exact title isn’t spelled out. But his Russian accent is terrible.

The plot of 2010 is considerably less complex than 2001 (which no matter how many times you see it always leaves one scratching their head, thinking, “Huh?”). Nine years after the mission of the Discovery went south rather spectacularly — the man who designed the mission (Scheider), the computer engineer who designed HAL, and an engineer (John Lithgow), hitch a ride on a Russian ship to Jupiter to investigate the monolith, figure out what went wrong on Discovery, fix HAL, and pretty much find some answers. And they do…  ultimately 2010 is satisfying as a film because it explains the loose ends left in 2001 and has it’s own plot of cooperation overcoming Cold War oppression and stupidity, that works. Some of the other issues in the film can be overlooked. And it also looks pretty good, so that’s helpful. That is, the special effects don’t look particularly dated.

Recommendation:  See it, after seeing 2001 and boning up on your 1980s culture and history.
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars
Next Film:  42nd Street

12 Angry Men

  • Title:  12 Angry Men
  • Director:  Sidney Lumet
  • Date:  1957
  • Studio(s):  United Artists / MGM
  • Stars:  Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, Jack Warden, Jack Klugman, E.G. Marshall, Martin Balsam (et al)
  • Genre:  Drama, Classic
  • Format:  Black & White, Forced Widescreen
  • DVD Formats: R1, NTSC

This is a movie I picked up literally a few years ago from a bargain bin (that is, I paid probably $5.00 or $10.00 for it), I’d seen the film before and remembered it to be good – and it had Jack Klugman in it so I figured, why not. Unfortunately, the film has been sitting on my “to be watched” shelf since.

It’s a good film — not as slow as I feared and beautifully directed.

12 Angry Men is about a jury for a murder trial. Part of  what is interesting about the film is what it doesn’t show you. You don’t see the police case. You don’t see the trial. The film starts with the judge, sounding almost bored, giving his instructions to the jury in a capital case, and dismissing the alternate jurors. But the vast majority of the film takes place in the jury room. At first, the jurors seem to think they have an open and shut case, a vote is called and 11 of the 12 vote guilty. The rest of the film concerns first one man, then others, raising questions about the trial — a trial which at the start of the film is assumed to be open-and-shut, but through the discussion of the jurors we learn was for the most part built on circumstantial evidence and two (probably) unreliable witnesses. Gradually, each juror realizes that he has a different nagging doubt about the case. But for the most part, three jurors remain convinced of the man’s guilt. And, gradually the film turns from the majority thinking the man is guilty and trying to convince the few or the one that thinks he’s innocent (or at least that there is room for doubt) to the majority thinking he’s innocent (or being tired of swimming against the current in the case of one or two jurors) and trying to convince the remaining ones who think he’s guilty.

The film spends nearly its entire length in the jury room – apart from the opening scene with the judge.  It’s a hot day, so hot, eventually a storm breaks and the windows need to be shut. The heat adds to the tensions between the jurors. (It’s also one of two major anachronisms about the film. First, the jurors are all white men, though one is an immigrant who’s obviously gained his citizenship. Second, the jury room has no air conditioning. Obviously, if the film was to take place now those two facts would change.) But, for a film from 1957, you can overlook those details. And the sense of heat – the men wiping their faces with handkerchiefs and the sweat stains on their shirts – adds to the sense of tension and the sense of passing time, without the need to resort to shots of a clock. In fact, a clock is never used in the film — though the time is mentioned a few times (usually in the future tense, as in, “Should we order dinner?” / “Let’s wait until 7 o’clock”).

Also, for a film which is about people talking to each other (or at each other, often with raised voices) — it really doesn’t get boring. One becomes interested in the jurors, whom we really only know by number or the actor playing them, — not as people but as representing ideas. And they aren’t all perfect – Klugman plays a man who rose from the streets; another juror’s main reason for voting guilty is prejudice — and even he seems to admit it. The jurors, by the end, know they aren’t perfect, and neither are the eyewitnesses in the case or the lawyers. And for the audience – you haven’t seen the lawyers, the cops, the witnesses, or anything else – all you have to go on is what the jurors say and how they discuss what happened, with their own POVs and prejudices. There’s even a tiny hint at the end that the guy who started everyone talking perhaps thought the accused was guilty – but thought he deserved a fair shake, that five minutes of no discussion wasn’t fair — and in the end, that is the point, the point of “Reasonable Doubt”, of not making assumptions, and actually looking at the evidence from all the possible angles.

Second, the direction, by Sidney Lumet, is masterful. The use of light on the actors’ faces is brilliant, and a prime example of just what can be done with black and white film, especially when used by those who know how. But there are also some truly masterful scenes — such as when one of the jurors is ranting about the man being guilty – but his rant degenerates into pure, nasty, evil prejudice against the man being “one of  those people – you know what they’re like” and more such drivel. One by one, each of the other men gets up, walks from the table, and turns his back on the man. Eventually, the rant stops and everyone gets back to business. But the shot is awe-inspiring, and beautiful — just the way turning their backs shuts the guy up.

But again, there are many beautiful shots – from the play of  light or shadow across an actor’s face, to Klugman leaning into the knuckles of his hand and smiling during part of the discussion.

Overall, 12 Angry Men, is an excellent film, with an excellent cast, and it deserves to be seen. I was a little upset that my DVD was in Forced Widescreen, rather than Standard/Normal, 4:3 ratio of what, no doubt was the original presentation of the film – and would have made the cramped jury room seem even more cramped and claustrophobic.

Recommendation:  See it — at least once.
Rating:  3-4 out of 5 stars
Next Film:  2010:  The Year We Make Contact